One of the teenagers who escaped from the Islamic extremist group that abducted more than 300 schoolgirls has said the kidnapping was “too terrifying for words”, and that she is scared to go back to school.
Sarah Lawan, a 19-year-old science student, spoke on Sunday as Nigerians prayed for the safety of the 276 students still held captive. Ms Lawan said that more of the girls could have escaped but that they were frightened by their captors’ threats to shoot them. She spoke in a phone interview from Chibok, her home and the site of the mass abduction in north-east Nigeria.
The government’s failure to rescue the remaining captives has attracted mounting outrage. Last week, Abuja accepted international help after ignoring earlier offers.
Experts expected in Nigeria to assist in search and rescue efforts include US hostage negotiators and others from Britain, France, China and Spain. Israel also offered assistance on Sunday.
“I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me,” Ms Lawan said. “I cry each time I come across their parents and see how they weep when they see me.” Police said 53 students had escaped.
The Boko Haram terrorist network is threatening to sell into slavery those who remain captive and there have been reports that some of the girls have been forced into marriage with their abductors, who paid a nominal bride price of $12. Others are said to have been carried into Cameroon and Chad.
Ms Lawan said other girls who escaped later told her that the abductors spoke of their plans to marry them.
She said the thought of going back to school terrifies her, but that it will be necessary if she is to realise her dream of studying law.
“I am really scared to go back; but I have no option if I am asked to go because I need to finish my final year exams,” she said.
In churches across the country Nigerians prayed for the girls, whose plight has brought together ordinary people at a time of growing tension between Muslims and Christians, exacerbated by the increasingly deadly attacks of the Boko Haram terrorist network. Africa’s most populous nation of 170 million has almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims.
The Reverend Stephen Omale prayed at a church in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
“Wherever they are, God will bring them out in his own mercy, he will see that they are brought out safely,” he told congregants.
Britain has said it hopes to help rescue the girls and to halt the five-year-old insurgency that has killed thousands of Muslims and Christians and has driven some 750,000 people from their homes.
The US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, cautioned that it is “going to be very difficult” to find the missing girls. In an interview with ABC’s This Week aired yesterday, he said: “It’s a vast country ... but we’re going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use.”
A Nigerian security expert warned that the militants may have laid landmines to discourage any pursuit, and said strategists may be considering starving them out.
Darlington Abdullah, a former Nigerian Air Force Commodore, told the Sky News channel that “even as [Boko Haram] go along abducting children, they are also going after food”.
A leading Nigerian rights group yesterday demanded that the UN Security Council impose sanctions on Boko Haram. “The future of these missing schoolgirls hangs in a balance. The council should not leave them to fend for themselves,” said Adetokunbo Mumuni, executive director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project.
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